I've read GotM and NoK so far and I must admit that I'm perplexed as to how godhood works exactly. From the Malazan Wikia I read:

A God was an Ascendant who had gained control of a Warren, accessed its power through a Throne, and was worshiped by mortals.

So, in order to become a God you must control a warren. But if that's the case a lot of questions rise, some of which are:

  1. Which warrens do gods like Oponn or Fener control?
  2. Why isn't there a god in every warren yet? (for example the Imperial Warren)

In addition to the above, what exactly are the Paths? For instance, Thyr. I read from the Malazan Wikia:

Thyr was the human Warren also known as Path of Light.

This also raises questions:

  1. What does "human Warren" mean? Only humans can access it? Why?
  2. If it's a warren, does this mean that a god controls it? Or could possibly control it?

In short, can someone explain to me what Gods, Warrens and Paths are, how they work and their differences?

  • 4
    You are perplexed, I am perplexed, the characters are perplexed. Perhaps even Steven Erikson himself is perplexed. Oct 4 '15 at 20:28
  • 1) Note that the mechanics of magic/warrens are quite different in GotM compared with later books. 2) The series is vague and inconsistent in these matters. I don't think there is an explanation that doesn't contradict some of what happened in the books. Oct 4 '15 at 20:29

First of all, you are not alone. The way godhood and magic works in the Malazan books is very confusing. I like to think that it's intentionally that way: what we're reading is merely the confused understanding that a few mortals have about something that is fundamentally incomprehensible.

However, it is not true that the only way to be a god was to control a Warren. There were many ways for a being in this universe to have god-like powers. As the author himself explains:

are all gods ascendants? If you mean ascendant in the general sense of being very powerful, then yes. If you mean ascendant in terms of progression, then there are exceptions. Most of the animistic ones, for example (the totemic, tribal ones) derived from the act of worship, or the attribution of significance to a particular place. - Q and A with malazanempire No 2 (2003) src

Thus, it seems like there are at least three ways to become a god in the Malazan universe:

The Elder Gods

The "elder" gods are the gods who have always been gods. These are creatures like Kilmandaros of the Forkrul Assail, and Mother Dark of the Tiste Andii. They were physical beings, capable of (for example) having children, but they also represented fundamental forces of the universe. In particular, the warrens themselves were the "veins" of K'rul, one of the elder gods.

These gods mostly seem to have disappeared from the world by the time of the story, though not entirely.

The "Totemic" Gods

Throughout the series, we occasionally run into gods that seem to exist merely because they represent something that a lot of people worship. Fener, in your question, is an example of this. He's the God of War, and exists because there are a whole lot of people who worship war. As long as that continues to be the case, there will always be a God of War.

The identity of these gods appears to change as needed; for example, during the story we see Fener, who's worship has fallen off, replaced by a new God of War.

The Ascendants

These are otherwise-mortal beings who have managed to somehow cheat death. Not all Ascendants are gods, but they have the potential to be. Seizing control of a warren appears to be the primary means of doing this, but not the only one. This, for example, is how Shadowthrone becomes a god -- he took over an abandoned warren.

But it's not really the warren, but rather the idea of "being worshipped", that separates an Ascendant God from just a regular Ascendant. I believe that most Ascendants we see in the series never really achieve god-hood. Those that control a particular warren have a staked a claim on some aspect of the world that will grant them followers, but there are other ways to become worshipped. The replacement God of War, for example, is an initally-human Ascendant. Oponn appears to have achieved god-hood simply by nature of being the grandchildren of an Elder God, and having control over some aspect of the world that draws people to worship them.

The Warrens and The Paths

Also, since you asked, the warrens are very closely tied to the idea of godhood, but they're much more closely tied to the idea of magic.

The warrens, conceptually, are the "veins" of the god K'rul, which he has opened to mortals to allow them to use magic. But the warrens are also a physical place -- you can travel through them, and even live in them. For example, the Tiste Andii race spent their early existence living inside of their warren, until it was damaged and they were forced out.

There are two different kinds of warrens that appear in the series:

Elder warrens are the primordial warrens, ones closely associated with the Elder Races and the Elder Gods. Typically, these Warrens are open only to those of a particular race; for example, Anomander Rake is both a Tiste Andii and a Soultaken, so he can use Starvald Damelain (the Dragon Warren) and Kurald Galain (the Tiste Andii warren).

The Paths are the warrens open to human mages; these seem to pop into existence as needed. They are called the Paths because human mages with access to a warren can use it to travel long distances in short time periods. In addition, different humans have access to different warrens, usually only one at a time. (Quick Ben has access to many, but he's super special.)

It might seem unfair, that humans have access to a whole range of warrens while the Elder Races only have one each, but the Elder Warrens are tapping directly into the primal magic of the universe. Each one of them is orders of magnitude more powerful than any human warren. We see spells from, e.g. the Jaghut, using their warren, that dwarfs anything the most powerful human mages could match.

Probably the best way to think of it is that the one "human racial" warren is split up into smaller, more specialized "sub-warrens", so most humans only have access to a tiny fraction of its power. (This isn't something that's ever stated in the books, I just made it up, but IMO it's the best way to keep the relative strength of the warrens in mind.)

  • 5
    I would like to point out that this may be the only answer I've written on this site where you are likely more confused after you read it than before.
    – KutuluMike
    Oct 4 '15 at 22:28
  • This was an excellent answer that clears a lot of stuff in my head, so I've marked it already as accepted. One small thing bothers me though that concerns the Paths. We see that the Elder Warrens are open to certain (Elder) races. Isn't it kind of OP for humans to be able to access so many paths? I mean, the Tiste Andii can only use Starvald Damelain, but humans can use a variety of warrens. How so? If you can edit your answer to include this I'll appreciate it but other than that, as I said, the current answer is already accepted. :)
    – Aventinus
    Oct 5 '15 at 8:54
  • 1
    no problem, edited
    – KutuluMike
    Oct 5 '15 at 10:54
  • Excellent. I think I can continue my Malazan journey now - and almost certainly come back with new questions :P
    – Aventinus
    Oct 5 '15 at 11:42
  • 1
    @Oblivious I don't think elder races are unable to use younger warrens, they just rarely bother to do so. I vaguely recall a Jaghut using a warren different from Omtose Phellack in order to avoid detection by the T'lan Imass. Oct 5 '15 at 12:03

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